Toronto fans may have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths, as their team was unable to complete any further deals at the NHL trade deadline day. That should not overshadow the great offering they did serve in the days leading up to it.
GM Lou Lamoriello did not trade P.A. Parenteau, Michael Grabner or any of their remaining unrestricted free agents (UFAs) as they had hoped, but they did increase draft picks and create greater cap flexibility. More importantly, they can continue the path they set themselves upon.
“The challenge in Toronto is not to coming up with a plan,” Brendan Shanahan told the media in April of last year. “The challenge in Toronto is to stick to it.” In a number of deals, the Leafs stayed the course giving away UFA’s such as popular goalie James Reimer, defenseman Roman Polak and forwards Shawn Matthias and Nick Spaling. They also traded the large contract of Dion Phaneuf, and for the second year in a row traded away forward Daniel Winnik, this time to Washington.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 27, 2016
In return, the Buds received four second round draft picks, two- fourth-rounders’ and a few veterans that may or may not see any ice time with Toronto. Despite poor market conditions, the Maple Leafs were still able to get value for their players. Eric Staal for example, considered to be the most prominent name moved, only cost the New York Rangers two second round picks and forward prospect Aleksi Saarela. On top of that, the Carolina Hurricanes will still pay 50% of Staal’s salary.
Perhaps the most notable story of this year’s deadline was the number of players who were ‘sure to get traded’ but did not move at all. Tampa Bay did not part with disgruntled Jonathan Drouin. Columbus had interest in moving Scott Hartnell, but his contract posed an issue to suitors. The Bruins were supposed to move Loui Eriksson but could not pull the trigger and neither could the Vancouver Canucks with Dan Hamhuis or Radim Vrbata.
There are several reasons for this years’ lack of deadline deals such as the complexity of the salary cap, the increased value of draft picks and GM’s beginning to realize they have been over-paying for rental players in the past.
The Toronto Maple Leafs did not make any of those sexy, splashy, headline grabbing trades. Instead, they took a mature approach and found ways to refuel and rebuild while keeping the momentum on course. That is not an easy thing to do in Toronto, where the unfathomable burden of a 49 year Cup drought is unfairly placed on the shoulders of this management team. “There are no shortcuts to building a team the right way,” Shanahan wrote in a letter to season-ticket holders at the end of last season. “It will require patience and a long-term view, but it is important for you to know that the process will be well worth it when we get there.”
Thank you @MapleLeafs, all my teammates, the staff, and all the fans. Was a dream come true to play for my hometown team!
— Nick Spaling (@Spals88) February 24, 2016
Therefore, before debating how great or poorly the Leafs did at this deadline, it is imperative to understand how the trades help with the overall process, and not be fixated on just comparing who came in but to who left. The process started when the MLSE Board of Directors approved Brendan Shanahan’s ‘scorched earth’ policy. It was revealed in February 2015 that Maple Leaf President Shanahan was given as much leeway as needed to return the once proud franchise back to a state of prominence, even if that meant lots of pain in the short term.
After trading the untradeable contract of David Clarkson, the process began, but it wasn’t until the end of the season when fans realized just how deep the cuts needed to be. Shanahan fired General Manager Dave Nonis, most of the coaching staff including interim head coach Peter Horochek and 18 out of 22 scouts.
Decisive. Clean. Swift.
Who remained was Kyle Dubas, the analytics wonder-kid and Mark Hunter, the super-scout who knows many of the players that will be drafted in the next few years. Shanahan then added experienced championship pedigree, Coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello and making the off-ice reformation complete. The players themselves were not spared as only 10 of them now remain from the 2014 roster. The process that brought the Leafs to this point was simple, yet brilliant.
In the 2015 off-season, they were able to trade the whipping boy Phil Kessel and sign (or trade for) a number of UFAs they hoped could be traded for draft picks. Fast forward to early February where trading away Dion Phaneuf and Roman Polak helped clear some cap space. This allowed them to now take on a salary dump from another team (Brooks Laich of the Washington Capitals) for another draft picks (a 2016 2nd-round pick) as well.
That is why the Toronto Maple Leafs were successful during the 2016 trade deadline; they came up with a plan over a year ago and have stuck with it. They have 12 draft picks in 2016 and 30 over the next three years, which is more than any other team. They no longer have to deal with the weighted contracts of David Clarkson, Phil Kessel or Phaneuf and they now have cap space flexibility.
It could have been better obviously if it was a sellers market for example, or if more teams were looking for a backup goalie etc., but these are all circumstances above and beyond their control.
With the trade deadline having come and gone, Lamoriello has done his part and done it well. Soon it will be Mark Hunter’s time to shine shortly as he prepares for the June draft, but those in the know aren’t worried. “I’m impressed more and more with him [Mark Hunter] and totally comfortable with him having these picks in his hands,” the 73 year-old, Lou Lamoriello told the Toronto Sun last week. “I think the Maple Leaf fans should feel comfortable also.”
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